Subaru buyers are liberals. Not all, of course, but it must be most. They have their causes and wear them like bumper stickers. And Subaru courted them. For example, it was the first automaker to appeal to LGBT buyers in its advertising. Outside of Saab (rest in peace), no OEM has so clearly amassed an ideologically focused customer base. They know what they want, and what they want is an electric Subie.
Here it is: the all-electric 2023 Subaru Solterra. It’s Latin. Ground like in the sun and Earth like on Earth. Add “luna” to the name and we would have the moon covered. “Celo” would include the sky. There’s a song somewhere.
As a signal of virtue, the Solterra cannot approach Tesla. It looks too ordinary for that – a straightforward midsize SUV, not a sci-fi near-future transport mod. Subaru has produced some really weird and clunky cars in its past – the 360, the original Leone, the bug-eyed generation of Impreza and WRX – but the company has become more conservative in its styling as it has accumulated sales success. Here’s a chance to recapture some of that madness, and Subaru took a tough pass. Is it smart? Probably. But from the point of view of the car, a little disappointing.
Some of that caution may come from the fact that the Solterra is a collaborative effort with Toyota, which owns 20% of Subaru. There is RAV4 in the Solterra. The roofline and the greenhouse are very familiar. Subaru’s only note of whimsy is the raw black plastic of the front fenders, essentially riffing on the idea of fender flares with a kind of wry flair. So be ironic and call them flares.
Subaru and Toyota split up for the development of this zapper, but production takes place at Toyota’s Motomachi plant in Japan, where such notable machines as the Lexus LF-A and Mk. IV Supra were also assembled. And will be built alongside the Solterra its quasi-twin, the Toyota bZ4X. Solterra might not be the most evocative name, but it beats the hell out of bZ4X.
Subaru calls the Solterra’s new structure the “E-Subaru” platform and states that it is not related to any other Subaru vehicle and is not based on the Toyota TNGA platform found in the RAV4. The automaker also swears that these foundations will not be shared with Toyota’s other junior partner, Mazda.
At least here in North America, the Solterra comes standard with Subaru’s expected “symmetrical” all-wheel-drive system. Except it’s not the same system used in internal combustion Subarus. Instead, it’s a twin-motor setup, with one powering each axle. The cases containing these two motors differ due to their position in the vehicle, but the internal components are the same and each is rated at 80 kilowatts. That’s just over 107 horsepower, and Subaru calls that a combined 218 horsepower. Sometimes EV calculations don’t make sense. No matter.
Both electric whirlpools are powered by an underfloor 72.8 kWh battery pack filled with 96 lithium-ion cells delivering 355.2 volts. It will take approximately nine hours to recharge the pack on a Level 2, 240-volt charger; a DC fast charger will bring the battery to 80% charge in approximately 56 minutes. Got a long weekend and nothing to do? Well, a 120 volt outlet will use 77 hours to fill the Solterra’s power pan. Like most electric vehicles, the Solterra relies on a standard SAE J1772 connector and the charging port is on the left front fender.
Because it has a flat floor and the layout pushes the wheels into the farthest corners, there’s plenty of room inside this thing. The 112.2-inch wheelbase allows for a generous amount of legroom in the rear, and that matters if, say, the sure-footed Solterra is used to Uber in snowy Billings, Montana.
Subaru is proud of Solterra’s claimed minimum ground clearance of 8.3 inches. In light off-roading at the media launch event, it never stumbled. But what’s better here is how the stability and traction control systems have been optimized to allow a touch of drift on soft surfaces before you set off. When the computers kick in, the setting is smooth and perfectly suited to save the driver’s keister without any intimidating suddenness. . It’s so good that there’s hardly any temptation to turn it off.
Subaru also boasts of the Solterra’s reasonable curb weight, with the base Premium model coming in at 4365 pounds and going up to 4505 pounds for the deluxe Touring version. In the electric world, these are lean figures. But even with 249 lb-ft of torque from a standstill, 218 horsepower isn’t going to skyrocket that much. So acceleration is good, but not gob-smacking, Tesla-challenging, physics-defying, multi-hyphenate speedy. Think zero to 60 in about six seconds. At least that’s how it feels. It will be great if it turns out faster.
Again, I only had limited exposure to the new machine. But Subaru has equipped the Solterra with a “dual-function X-Mode” system that tunes the vehicle for different conditions. There was no chance of testing the Snow/Mud modes in the dust of Phoenix, Arizona, but on the silt of the roads the new Subie performed just fine. And the “Grip” setting seemed to keep the machine calm in slightly hairy situations. Plus, there’s downhill assist control and that’s at least reassuring.
Standard rubber on the Premium is a 235/60 tire on 18-inch alloy wheels, while the Limited and Touring models upgrade to 20s and 235/50s. These are not aggressive tires; they are touring grade, optimized for quiet cruising and low rolling resistance. They perform well, but buyers will have to wait for the inevitable Wilderness Edition for more aggressive off-road rubber. Or let’s hope Subaru goes really bonkers and builds an STi version for ultimate on-road cornering prowess. (It will not happen.)
As it stands, the Solterra drives like many other electric cars: quiet, oddly quiet manners, perfectly suited for commuting. The front MacPherson strut and double-wishbone rear suspension are well-tuned for comfort, not so happy when pushed through corners. The electric power steering is quite communicative, but it doesn’t have much to say.
The biggest criticism comes inside the Solterra. Naturally, there are large displays that integrate all known forms of information via smartphones or vehicle-mounted cameras. Still, Subaru saddled the interior with an odd steering wheel placement. It sits at the end of a long pod that extends from the dashboard to the driver. It’s adjustable for the rake, but it was impossible to position it so the rim wouldn’t block some of the digital instrumentation behind it. I had to get up and strain to see the mileage, speed or any other piece of information. Some things can be seen, but never all at once.
Pricing hasn’t been announced, but expect the Solterra to rival other electric SUVs in this size class. That means around $40,000 to start, with the fancier ones reaching around $50,000.
For the liberal suburban audience that Subaru has, the Solterra will work well. But a second, equally loyal band of Subaru lovers live in cold states covered in sleet and mush half the year. A reputation for thriving in near-Arctic conditions will be crucial to Solterra’s success; whether this new electric vehicle deserves that respect remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, off-road capability in a battery-powered electric? It is perfectly suited to the philosophical and practical needs of a state. Vermont, it’s your Subaru.
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